Taming the Beast: Gas Turbine Engines Are Not Easy to Maintain

How do you maintain a system with parts made to fail?  

Gas turbines are a crucial part of many power facilities and are vital in providing a highly reliable and efficient power source. Keeping the gas turbines running requires a lot of planning and maintenance as a part of an ongoing plan to ensure continuous reliability and optimum performance. Although using borescope tools are part of the plan, much more goes into checks, diagnosis, and repairs of gas turbines as they require the best equipment and processes available.

Gas Turbines Are Using in a Variety of Industries

The idea behind what a gas turbine may seem pretty simple, but the parts involved in making the system work and produce power are complex and operate under very tight tolerances. Manufacturers of these machine offer baseline data that you should use during each inspection and repair. Any variable, like vibration, excessive temperature, pressure, and other unusual conditions can impact performance, but there’s usually a window where you can find and correct these anomalies before they cause catastrophic damage to the turbine.

“You may have never heard of gas turbine engines, but they are used in all kinds of unexpected places. For example, many of the helicopters you see, a lot of smaller power plants and even the M-1 Tank use gas turbines.” Marshall Brain of How Stuff Works explains.

Gas turbines often operate under high temperature, high stress conditions, and are also exposed to combustion gases that are very corrosive. Since they have to be fired at the highest  temperatures to get the best possible output, there’s no getting away from the heat. Fighting against the heat is an ongoing situation as degradation of components is inevitable.

Many components on gas turbines have a limited lifespan. No matter how well-built, oxidation, corrosion, heat related cracking, and degradation is going to happen. Identifying which components are at the end of their lifespan is vital to prevent further damage to the machine. A very thorough analysis must be done of every component to determine the health and reliability of sensitive components which can lead to prevention of failure in the near future.

Inspections and repairs are done through shutdown periods. During these times, it’s possible to get a thorough look at worn components, or any parts that need to be upgraded. What the shutdown period isn’t intended for is a complete teardown, so actually viewing all components is where borescopes come into play.

Inspection is Crucial to Prevent Failure

Engineers rely heavily on the use of articulating video borescopes for turbine engine inspection. These tools are available in different sizes, and are tailored for various uses. They also assist technicians in safely conducting thorough and accurate inspections on dangerous and complicated systems.

An articulating video borescope uses optics to relay images back to the technician through their handheld device. It can fit into tight spaces, and reach spots that are impossible to visualize without teardown. The idea is that by using the optics and handheld device, the equipment doesn’t have to come apart to check for cracks, corrosion, signs of wear, and broken components. This saves the company a lot of money and time from not having to shut down the equipment for long periods of time and halt production tied to the gas turbines.

As expert Nick Pozzi, Manager of Customer Service for the Gas Turbine Division of Kawasaki Gas Turbines explains “Such aggressive predictive maintenance helps eliminate downtime and possible expensive repair. This is one of the things we do to achieve over 98% reliability and availability (R&A). Indeed, some of the gas turbine systems that we have installed have achieved 98% R&A for the past 13 years. Preventive-maintenance and predictive-maintenance methods will vary some from one OEM to the next and the prospective turbine system buyer should inquire about an OEM’s R&A track record.”

So to summarize, the amount of time spent on inspection needs to be minimal, but the rate of part damage is usually pretty high, and expected. Getting ahead of the damage is crucial, and borescopes offer a way to thoroughly inspect components without needing excessive downtime. These are not just the ‘latest’ trending tool used by engineers, they are perhaps the most important tool in the shop.


About SPI Borascope

We are a leading name in the borescope industry and offer consumer grade to military and industrial grade borescopes. The above information was gathered using feedback from technicians and engineers who work closely with gas turbine engines, specifically as it pertains to maintenance and repair. We strive to offer the best tools for our customers as offering top quality products is our number one priority.

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